The rocky path toward creating a new public law school in the District was smoothed a bit yesterday as N. Joyce Payne, the chairman of the University of the District of Columbia's board of trustees, gave a tentative blessing to an agreement worked out between D.C. Council members and Mayor Marion Barry.
The agreement, signed Friday, represented Barry's first signal of public support for the law school proposal, which until then had been championed almost exclusively by council members. Under the compromise, the new school would operate as part of UDC but would not be forced to inherit faculty members and staff members from the Antioch School of Law, which is scheduled to graduate its last class next June.
UDC trustees had previously rejected an effort by the council to place the proposed law school under its control, arguing that their struggling institution would be saddled with an unfair fiscal burden. However, after receiving a copy of the new agreement this week, Payne said, she began to see hope for the resolution of the law school debate.
"My initial response to the compromise is very positive," she said. "It allows UDC to play a much stronger role" in curriculum development and other areas.
"And we are pleased that the mayor is willing to provide the kind of leadership needed to identify a facility" to house the school, Payne said.
The law school proposal encountered a near fatal snag three weeks ago when Barry vetoed a measure passed by the council that designated a UDC building on Harvard Street NW as the site for the school.
Last weekend's compromise -- worked out in telephone and face-to-face meetings with Barry adviser Dwight S. Cropp, council Chairman David A. Clarke, Education Committee Chairman Hilda H.M. Mason (Statehood-At Large) and John Ray (D-At Large) -- did not specify a site for the school. But Barry, for the first time, agreed to cooperate in finding a building to house the institution that would meet American Bar Association accreditation standards.
Council staff members are also working to alter the bill creating the law school to have the revised agreement presented to the full council when it reconvenes Sept. 15 from its two-month summer recess.
Mason, the law school's chief champion, said yesterday that the agreement "is part of the solution. The first objective is to try to get all of us working together."
But some misgivings have been presented about the details of the agreement, which have not been addressed by the five-member interim governing board for the school. On Tuesday, Mason withdrew permanent legislation establishing the board, creating the possibility that the board will be dissolved in September, when its 90-day temporary authority expires.
"I'm sufficiently cynical -- or, cautious is the word -- to wait and see what happens," Frederick B. Abramson, a member of the school's board, said of the agreement. "I have a non-self-executing paper in front of me that has a lot of contingencies, a lot of contingencies."